Culture

Sex Advice: Lead Us Not Into Google

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on July 2, 2014

My finger hovered over the “publish” button. I drew a shaky breath. For months I’d been thinking about publishing this ebook but kept asking myself, “Do you really want to be ‘that Catholic woman who published a book about great sex‘?”

Three years ago, while we were working on Style, Sex, and Substance, contributing writer Elizabeth Duffy sent a questionnaire to hundreds of Catholic women asking them about their sex lives: Were they satisfied? With what issues did they most struggle? And their husbands? Were they content? Was there tension?

I was taken aback and saddened to see just how many women reported being dissatisfied with the sexual-love aspect of their marriage. Inspired and informed by the feedback she received, Elizabeth wrote an excellent chapter on the topic for our book.

After the book released, I started receiving emails from women about their intimate lives and the struggles they faced. At best, they said, sex wasn’t fun. At worst, it was a source of enormous marital tension…

To read more, just head over to Patheos where I have the pleasure and privilege of guest posting this week!

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Is caring about your appearance inherently vain?

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on May 3, 2011

Ha!

A few days ago Morgan asked a great question over in this combox. She wanted to know…

“Does anyone else struggle with wanting to look nice vs not being vain? Or is it just the perfectionist in me that thinks it’s impossible to do both?

For some reason this is a hard one for me. If I am dressing so that my body looks nice, am I inherently being vain?”

While I don’t believe one necessarily follows the other, I do recognize that vanity can be a temptation for many women, myself included. We’re women! We like to look lovely! It’s in our nature! Could it be that we occasionally indulge ourselves a bit too much, though?

When I was first wrestling with this question I thought it important to ask myself two things:

1) What are my primary reasons for wanting to look nice?
2) If I do detect some level of vanity does that mean I should stop caring about my appearance?

I thought about it a bit and determined that my reasons for wanting to look nice are threefold:

First, I want my husband to know that more than a decade after we first started dating I still like to look pretty for him. I think that’s a perfectly innocent way for me to express my affection.

Second, I think it’s important to show my children that this vocation of mine is worthy of respect and that I value it. I want them to know how much I love being a wife and mother.

And third, I hope to witness to the culture effectively. I aim to convey to the world that I love my life and am thriving.

(Somewhat related is my goal of becoming more physically fit. I pursue this not to have a hot body–not primarily, anyway–but rather because I want to be as healthy as possible.)

So, those are good, honorable reasons, right? I think so, but–if I’m going to be honest–are those my only reasons for wanting to look nice? Probably not. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been tempted by less virtuous motives.

What’s a gal supposed to do? Do I stop wearing nice clothes? Should I jettison my make-up and stop cutting my hair? Do I let my already out of shape figure become even more so?

After some reflection, I realized my philosophy on this subject can be summed up by borrowing the words of the late, great G. K. Chesterton:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

My motives aren’t always impeccable, no, but I feel certain that making an attempt to look nice is a thing worth doing, even though I may do it badly. After all, who would suffer if I gave up the pursuit of a lovelier me?

Well, I would (for a variety of reasons) but so would my family. No one wants to be around a woman who feels badly about herself. Who would I bless by being too tired or overweight to tend to my duties? What message would I be sending to my children? How effectively could I witness to the culture if I dragged my disheveled self around here, there and everywhere? And how would my husband feel if I never made an effort to dress up a bit for him?

Having said all that, I’m certainly committed to ridding myself of the vice of vanity, I’d just rather not throw the baby out with the bathwater, you know?

What are your thoughts on this? Is vanity something that you struggle with? What are some things we can do to combat vanity while still making an effort to look attractive for the benefit of those around us? And here’s an interesting question…where does our God-given feminine nature (the one that causes us to delight in loveliness) end and vanity begin?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Take care, girls!
 Signed, Betty

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No More Yoga Pants

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on April 25, 2011



I was at a conference recently and saw my friend Gabrielle, who is living in Normandy for the year. She looked lovely, as always, and was wearing the best outfit: a fitted navy blazer over a simple tee and pleated skirt. She had paired this clean, minimal look with a pair of Bass saddle oxfords with satin laces. “You look so French!” I told her.

This, of course, led to a discussion of how French women dress. The rules in France are different from the rules here — no yoga pants or workout gear for running errands, for example. In fact, Gabby told me, on the days when she stays in her pajamas to work, she won’t answer the door, even if it’s only the UPS man. French women don’t do that.

After talking to Gabby, I think I need to move to France. Or at least start dressing more like I live there.

American women — particularly those of us with children — are all about being comfortable. We see getting dressed in anything beyond yoga pants and a t-shirt as being “dressed up,” and we object to this. It’s too much work and too expensive and too pretentious. But we’re missing the point.

French women have mastered everyday dress up. They’re able to pull together outfits that are stylish and flattering and yet still functional (something most Americans don’t believe is possible). But really, it’s such a simple thing to do. Here’s how…”

As a woman currently trying to wrestle her way out of her (far too) comfortable postpartum wardrobe I found this article to be oh-so inspiring. If you, too, are in need of a little push (postpartum or not), you can read the rest here.

Take care, ladies!
Signed, Betty

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Understanding Beauty by Calah Alexander

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on March 24, 2011

Today I am delighted to have Calah Alexander, one of my favorite online voices, guest posting. I appreciate Calah’s voice for many, many reasons but most of all because of the way she fearlessly and eloquently writes about her struggles. She is always humble, ever charitable, and remains open-minded. She never takes herself too seriously and has a wicked sense of humor. Plus, she’s quite simply a crazy talented writer. If you have yet to discover her blog, Barefoot and Pregnant, I highly recommend you go take a peek…

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As a relative newcomer to the Catholic blogosphere, many of the women whose sites I’ve begun to follow have helped me to be more aware of the need to ponder… well, to ponder femininity. As women in a thoroughly modern world we’re bombarded on all sides by conflicting messages. One such message comes, as Betty Beguiles eloquently points out over at Fathers for Good, through the fashion magazines so favored today by young women and takes the form of tips on how to become attractive in order to gain “the power that comes with being ‘hot’.”

When I was growing up I was (albeit subconsciously) all too familiar with this idea. I wanted to look good neither for my own sake, nor to enhance my God-given feminine beauty for the sake of those around me, but so that men would fall at my feet. I wanted to have power over them, and, God help me, I got it. I was never a knock-out, but there were a few boys (in my youth group, no less) who would do my will with a snap of my fingers. And I reveled in it. Without consciously realizing it, I learned early on to equate beauty with power.

After I got married, though, I didn’t see any reason to look good anymore. Quite frankly, I didn’t see any real reason to get dressed at all. Beauty was pointless in a marriage. By vowing to obey my husband, I had lost my power over him forever, so there was really no point in changing out of my pajamas. So I didn’t. For nearly five years.

In those early days of our marriage, one of the greatest struggles my husband and I faced was his insistence that looking at other women was perfectly natural. He defended the practice, asking with no small amount of sarcasm whether I expected him to spend his life ignoring other women. Perhaps he should wear blinders? Maybe someone could engineer reverse X-ray glasses that added layers instead of taking them off? Or we could move to Dutch Pennsylvania, where there’d be no danger of women showing off anything besides finely trimmed bonnets? We had alarming fights over this, ranging from knock-down-drag-outs which ended with him sleeping on the couch to tear-filled pity-parties which ended with me on the wrong end of a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. He couldn’t understand my objection. After all, he would say, it isn’t as if I’m the most gorgeous woman in the world. There are prettier women than me. Do I expect him to pretend they don’t exist?

When that line of questioning ended with him picking the shards of a flung wine glass out of his forearm, he switched tactics. There are men that I think are good looking, he would say. Do I pretend not to notice? Do I avert my eyes when talking to them? He knew my weakness for Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Hartnett and (oh, swoon) the young Robert Redford better than anyone. Should he stop renting movies for me with those actors in them?

Lest you think my husband is a lecherous creep, let me assure you that he did draw the important distinction between looking at and lusting after. He’s never had a wandering eye, he simply didn’t see anything wrong with noticing and appreciating feminine beauty.

I felt betrayed by his willingness to appreciate other women. Why wasn’t I enough for him? So what if I had spit-up in my hair and wore pajama pants and slippers to the grocery store? I was the mother of his children and those were the hazards of the trade. Shouldn’t he appreciate that by looking past the baby food caked to my cheek and see the beautiful girl I used to be? Although I couldn’t put it into words at the time, what I was really upset about stemmed less from my feeling betrayed than from my misunderstanding of beauty. In my mind, I had lost the power that comes with beauty; I had sacrificed it on the altar of motherhood and those other women, those beautiful women that my husband noticed, they now had that power that used to be mine.

Then we moved to Las Vegas. Suddenly we went from a small community where traditional Catholicism and strict appreciation for virtue were the norm to Sin City, the sex and smut capital of America. On one of our first weekends here, we drove to the Strip in the evening to see the dancing waters at the Bellagio. Once there, my husband carried our two-year-old daughter on his shoulders, holding my hand as I waddled beside him, heavily pregnant. The entire time we were on the strip the “card-flippers,” seemingly oblivious, shoved picture after picture of naked prostitutes into his face. The idea of “appreciating” beauty took on a whole new meaning, as did the idea of beauty being a source of power.

Those prostitutes on the cards were beautiful. Stunning, even. Yet they were as naked and exposed as the irony of their faces and bodies littering the ground like so many discarded advertisements. If you wanted, you could pick up a handful, rifle through them, and choose which one you wanted to spend the night with. They were objects, willing to let themselves be used, fleetingly, for monetary compensation. There was no power. There was only bondage.

My husband and I saw it for what it was: the culture of death. For the first time the inevitable result of our culture’s concept of beauty was clear to both of us, heartbreakingly clear. We hurried back to our car, shielding our daughter between us.

Not long afterward, he told me that he had begun attempting a “diet of the eyes.” He said that he wasn’t really sure that looking at other women was a sin, but that there was nevertheless an element of the voyeuristic about it. In “appreciating their beauty,” what he was really doing was treating them as objects. He wasn’t seeing a woman with a unique soul precious to God. He was seeing a nice pair of legs or a truly fabulous bottom. He admitted how difficult it was, but for the first time his failings didn’t break my heart. It didn’t hurt to hear that he failed. All I felt was pride in him for the attempt, and gratitude that God had opened both our eyes to the danger that comes with misunderstanding beauty.

Then, strangely, I myself felt something resembling shame. I had spent the last several years lamenting the fact that my husband wanted to look at other women, and yet what had I given him to look at? I spent my life in sweatpants and t-shirts, my hair pulled back in a dirty bun, covered in spit-up and baby food and, on bad days, poop. I had always assumed that all this came with the territory of “stay-at-home-mom,” but did it really have to? Was I really sacrificing my beauty on the altar of motherhood, or was I giving up attempting to be beautiful because I felt I would no longer gain anything by it?

Although my inner feminist railed at me for catering to a man and my inner Puritan chastised me for vanity, I started doing little things to improve my appearance. Nothing earth
-shattering, really, not even showering every morning. But instead of pulling my hair back without dragging a brush through it first, I got up in the morning and brushed and braided my hair. I started wearing colorful head scarves, sweatpants that were slightly more flattering, shirts that fit better, and even earrings. If the baby spit up on me, I changed my shirt. When I went shopping I bought dresses and skirts instead of jeans and t-shirts.

And my husband noticed. In a very rare occurrence, he complimented me on my hair. He started making jewelry with a certain outfit of mine in mind. His face lit up a little more when he walked in the door at night, his smile was a little warmer, his hand rested on the small of my back for just a little longer. I discovered, to my surprise, that looking nice for my husband wasn’t giving me that false sense of power that I had grasped at for all those years. It was giving me an opportunity to make him smile. It was giving me another way to show him that I cared.

And you know what? It feels good. It feels good to be feminine, to wear a skirt once in a while, to remember that God made me with a certain beauty. It feels good to be appreciated and noticed, and to know that while my husband walks around on campus surrounded by scantily-clad undergraduates trying his best not to let his eyes wander, he can look forward to coming home and putting his arms around a wife who isn’t wearing his spit-up covered shirts, sporting baby food in her tangled hair, or stomping around grumpily because she accidentally caught sight of herself in the mirror. He can look forward to putting his arms around a wife whose clothes are clean, whose hair is neat, and who has a smile for him. I love knowing that my husband is only looking at me, and I love making the effort to give him something good to look at. Contrary to popular feminist wisdom, my husband is worth it. And, to my surprise, my soul isn’t in chains of oppression after putting on a skirt for the sole purpose of making my husband smile. My soul is just fine.

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The Value of Image

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on March 23, 2011

I often hear people remark that image shouldn’t be all that important to Christians. Some even say that to be concerned with image is an act of vanity. All that matters is what is in our hearts, they say. It’s what we possess inside that counts. While I completely agree that the state of our souls should always be our primary concern, I cringe just a bit I hear when people say that image is of little value. Here’s why:

Just the other day I stumbled upon these videos produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Take a minute to watch one (or all) of them…

Amazing, right? High-quality, well-produced video, inspiring content, well-chosen settings, smiling faces, cute clothes, stylish haircuts, confident, joyful, enthusiastic, articulate, smart, creative people…I’m inspired, how about you?

Honestly, I watch these videos and think: these people are awesome! How do I become friends with people like this?

Ten years ago, when I was directionless and searching for meaning in my life, I can tell you that above videos would have caught my eye. Without a doubt. There’s even a pretty good chance I would have sought out and engaged the organization behind them. Anyone who is interested in evangelization should take note. The Mormons are on fire.

They understand that if you find yourself in possession of some bit of truth (though ideally we’d all have the fullness of truth, even partial truth has value) that has brought light and peace into your life you shouldn’t be afraid to present an attractive image in order to pique the interest of others. People are drawn to beauty. If you’ve got it–and you do–flaunt it. In fact, to not do so is an offense against the unique gifts God has given to you.

Look, I get that what I’m advocating for is not always easy. As you know, I have five kids, ages 7 and under. I’m still carrying a lot of extra weight from those pregnancies. I’m up at night with an infant. I’m tired. I’m on a very tight budget. I get it. All I’m saying is let’s not give up. Let’s fight for beauty. God has given every single one of us unique, charming, attractive attributes and talents. Identify them, nurture them to the best of your abilities and let them shine. This world is hungry for goodness, truth and beauty. It’s our job to give it to them.

But that’s just my take. How do you feel about this issue?

Take care!
Signed, Betty

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The Danger of "Authenticity"

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on January 6, 2011

A few years ago I cracked open a couple of books by a well-known “food issues” author in an attempt to fit into my little black dress. In that compelling way that self-help authors are so proficient at, she promised to solve all my problems. For only $12.99 I could be slim, confident and authentic, too.

That was her diagnosis. I lacked authenticity the way some people lack Vitamin D…which is a shame, really.

Falling for things hook, line and sinker I have a handle on, though, and so I did. I mean, really, why doubt her diagnosis when she sounded so gosh darn confident about it all?

Turns out I hadn’t been honest with my loved ones about my needs–of which I have many, I assure you. New York Super Fudge Chunk wasn’t my late night companion because it’s delicious (which it is), but because I was trying to fill a void–a void where my authenticity should have been, apparently.

But don’t you worry, friends–this author chick was not only a master diagnostician, she also came complete with solution in hand. It was quite simple, really. All I had to do was be more honest, and vocal, about my many needs. And don’t you know I had them…

More sleep? Check.
More time to myself? Check.
More help with the house? Check.
More help with the kids. Double check.
Spa treatments? New clothes? Vacations? Couldn’t hurt.

In retrospect, authenticity, as the concept was presented, ended up looking a whole lot like navel-gazing selfishness. But at the time, as viewed through this woman’s lens, it seemed I’d given up far too much of myself for my family. The premise of this woman’s argument was that the key to self-fulfillment–and a low body fat percentage–was my being more me-oriented. Of course, in order for me to be me-oriented, everyone else had to be oriented towards me, as well–an idea which if I thought it could work out I might still be entertaining.

Where did all this self-absorbed navel-gazing leave my husband, Dan? Well, that wasn’t my concern, really. I had a void to fill and a dress to fit into.  But, as I demanded that things change, he (already hugely selfless) was left to pick up the slack. The author in question’s prescription of focusing a laser beam on my own desires (and let’s not kid ourselves–that’s what they were: desires) was crowding out even my husband’s most basic needs. (And if that didn’t make him want to run for the hills, I assure you my many soliloquies about a return to authenticity did.)

This woman

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Touching a Nerve

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on January 5, 2011

Why skirts are such a hot-button issue.

This past January I wrote a piece for the website Faith and Family Live! entitled Skirting the Issue. In it I asked readers to weigh in on the question of why some Catholics feel that women should favor wearing skirts over pants. 200 passionate responses were left in the combox before Danielle Bean, the web editor, opted to disallow additional comments.

In August, Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote an article entitled Ninnies, Tyrants and Those Damned Pants challenging the opinion of an influential Catholic author that women should consider jettisoning their pants. His article blew up on Facebook after being shared 204 times.

In September, Simcha Fisher challenged that same author on her blog, I Have to Sit Down. She, too, chose to close her combox after the number of comments climbed to 317. That conversation was continued on author Mark Shea’s site, Catholic and Enjoying It!, where his comments eventually numbered 324.

What is it about a topic as seemingly mundane as women’s fashion that touches a nerve with so many? Why, when this topic is raised among Catholics, do web editors and blog owners have to step in and close comments due to heated rhetoric and flaring tempers?

Our Unique Place in History

We find ourselves in a unique place in history. Though women today are experiencing unparalleled freedom, we are not yet far enough away from a time when we were socially marginalized to have completely moved on. Because there may be some residual fear of having their liberties taken away, some women have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear it suggested that there might be some benefit to their favoring skirts over pants. Several of the individuals who contributed to this conversation asserted that the mere fact that the question had been raised concerned and insulted them.

Gender Roles

When questions are raised regarding the appropriateness of women wearing pants, they are often received as a demand that women take a step backwards in the quest for equality. One of the key tenets of the feminist revolution of the 1960’s was that, in order to be equal, women should not be asked or expected to do anything differently from men. The assumption being that to do so would be an infringement upon our autonomy and might prevent us from living full lives. This worldview has so infiltrated our culture that the average American wouldn’t even think to question it.

Rampant Immorality

Most Catholics are desperate to do something about rampant immorality. For those of us with children the issue of sexual immorality feels especially urgent. During this debate the “Live and Let Live” argument was repeatedly put forward by those who rejected the assertion that women ought to show preferential treatment to their skirts. That is not an argument that will appease many Catholics, though, as it is overused and often misapplied in today’s indulgent atmosphere. The fastest way to alienate a group of Catholics is to hand them the “Live and Let Live” card as it implies that the discussion isn’t even worth having. That simply isn’t going to suffice for those gravely concerned about the decline of Western civilization.

The Convert Experience

As a convert, I can attest to the fact there is often a period of correction and healing that we must go through at the beginning of our conversion experience. Fashion can play an important role in this process. For those who came from a fundamentalist background, wearing pants may help them to heal from a repressive religious or family upbringing. For those who grew up in a liberal environment that celebrated androgyny, wearing skirts may help them to rediscover and celebrate their femininity. This is an important journey for many converts and there can be a temptation to get upset when these necessary corrections are questioned.

Rise of Sexual Abuse

The numbers of those affected by sexual abuse continues to rise. For these individuals the issues of modesty, sexuality and gender identity may be particularly difficult ones to consider. Several people involved in this debate contended that pants are cut in a way that is too suggestive for a woman’s figure. The argument was then made that women who wear pants are sources of temptation and should assume some responsibility for the resulting sins of men. For victims of sexual abuse such an assertion sounds far too much like the cruel implication that they had asked to be abused. In fact, society as a whole has such an acute awareness of the horrible phenomenon of sexual abuse that even those who have not been abused may become understandably upset with any philosophy that seems to blame the victim.

Our Church leaves much up to personal discretion. How a woman chooses to clothe herself is included in that category. That is not to say that the relative goodness, or lack thereof, of various fashion trends is not worth discussing, but as the Magisterium is unlikely to ever weigh in authoritatively on such issues the debate will probably persist indefinitely.

As we continue to carry on these sorts of discussions we would be wise to take into account that we usually know very little about the individuals we encounter online. We can only begin to imagine the wide variety of experiences that lead people to their conclusions. Without the benefit of being able to witness another’s facial expressions, hear their tone of voice and ask follow-up questions that require extensive clarification and elaboration we all run the risk of falling victim to misunderstanding.

It takes humility to remember that the person on the other side of the screen might have certain life experiences that lend themselves to a better understanding of the issue than your own. It takes compassion to see that there might be pain behind another’s misguided comments. And it takes fortitude to soldier on in defense of the truth when dealing with unjust treatment. If we can persevere through these challenges, though, we will all benefit from the shared wisdom of individuals around the world who can only be united by that imperfect little thing called the Internet.

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